Designing for air and space with CAD

There's really no barriers when it comes to computer-aided design (CAD) software – these tools can be used by engineers in every industry to develop innovative new products and solve age-old problems.

Engineers use CAD software to design cutting edge space technologies.

Aerospace is one sector where the tools are proving particularly beneficial, helping to get the next generation of planes into the air and land rovers using rockets on Mars. Let's take a look at how engineers are designing for air and space using powerful CAD software, and what this means for the future.

A retrospective

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, plans were in full force to get an American man to the moon – and return him safely to Earth – before 1970 rolled around. As we all now, that plan was widely successful, with the Apollo program sending a total of 18 individuals to the moon across six missions.

But, back in the middle of the 20th century there was nothing like the powerful CAD software or lightning-fast desktops and laptops we have today. In fact, it's well-known that the computational power required to get men to the moon could be carried out by a single smartphone today.

The Saturn V, the rocket that carried the command module and lunar landing module, was designed by engineers sitting down and putting pen to paper.

How times have changed! Now, engineers use CAD software to design cutting edge space technologies, with the ability to develop concepts in record time.

Reusable rocketry

The key to making space travel more affordable – and as a result accessible – lies with reusable rockets. That is to say, instead of sending a capsule into space and having the rocket itself crash into the ocean, the rocket will need to fly back to the launch site to be used again.

Think of it like this: modern commercial air travel would not exist if we threw away planes after every flight.

By using powerful CAD software  – and a healthy amount of ingenuity – commercial space company SpaceX was able to do just this at the end of 2015. The company propelled satellites into space aboard the Falcon 9 rocket, before landing the first stage back near the launch site.

It's certainly something that wouldn't have been possible without the powerful simulation capabilities of CAD tools.

Landing a car on Mars

Not all advancements are happening in the private sector, however. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory used CAD software to better understand how the Curiosity Rover would fare once it arrived on Mars. After all, driving around on Mars is slightly different to heading out on a highway on Earth!

In fact, the average surface temperature is around 60 degrees below 0. This can place serious strain on a vehicle operating on the surface.

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Before heading off to carry out important science missions on Mars, NASA engineers and scientists used CAD software to see how the temperature would affect Curiosity. Of course, given that Curiosity uses a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, it's also constantly producing heat. Again, CAD software was able to show how this heat could be effectively vented from the vehicle.

CAD software is powering the next age of space flight, and having the right tools is going to be crucial for engineers. SOLIDWORKS can provide the necessary design tools and functionality.